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H1N1 Influenza in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

What is H1N1 influenza?

H1N1 influenza (swine flu) is caused by a virus. H1N1 influenza is easily spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or has close contact with others. Your child may be able to spread H1N1 influenza to others for 1 week or longer after signs or symptoms appear.

What are the signs and symptoms of H1N1 influenza?

Your child's risk for severe symptoms is higher if he or she is younger than 5 years. A heart or lung disease or weak immune system also increases his or her risk. Your child may have any of the following:

  • Fever and chills
  • Headaches, body aches, earaches, and muscle or joint pain
  • Dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, and sore throat
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Tiredness
  • Fast breathing, trouble breathing, or chest pain

How is H1N1 influenza diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will examine your child. Tell him or her if your child has health problems such as epilepsy or asthma. Tell him or her if your child has been around sick people or traveled recently. A sample of fluid may be collected from your child's nose or throat and tested for the H1N1 influenza virus.

How is H1N1 influenza treated?

Most healthy children get better within a week. Your child may need any of the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines your child uses to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your child's doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him or her. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children younger than 6 months without direction from a healthcare provider.
  • Do not give aspirin to children younger than 18 years. Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he or she has the flu or a fever and takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin or salicylates.
  • Antivirals help fight a viral infection. This medicine works best if it is given within 48 hours after symptoms begin.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I manage my child's symptoms?

  • Have your child rest. Rest will help him or her get better.
  • Give your child more liquids as directed. Liquids will help thin and loosen mucus so your child can cough it up. Liquids will also help prevent dehydration. Liquids that help prevent dehydration include water, fruit juice, and broth. Do not give your child liquids that contain caffeine. Caffeine can increase your child's risk for dehydration. Ask your child's healthcare provider how much liquid to give your child each day.
  • Clear mucus from your child's nose. Use a bulb syringe. Squeeze the bulb and put the tip into one of your baby's nostrils. Gently close the other nostril with your finger. Slowly release the bulb to suck up the mucus. Empty the bulb syringe onto a tissue. Repeat the steps if needed. Do the same thing in the other nostril. Make sure your baby's nose is clear before he or she feeds or sleeps. Your child's healthcare provider may recommend you put saline drops into your baby's nose if the mucus is very thick.
    Proper Use of Bulb Syringe
  • Soothe your child's throat. If your child is 8 years or older, have him or her gargle with salt water. Make salt water by dissolving ¼ teaspoon salt in 1 cup warm water.
  • Soothe your child's cough. You can give honey to children older than 1 year. Give ½ teaspoon of honey to children 1 to 5 years. Give 1 teaspoon of honey to children 6 to 11 years. Give 2 teaspoons of honey to children 12 or older.
  • Use a cool-mist humidifier. This will add moisture to the air and help your child breathe easier. Make sure the humidifier is out of your child's reach.
  • Apply petroleum-based jelly around the outside of your child's nostrils. This can decrease irritation from blowing his or her nose.
  • Keep your child away from cigarette and cigar smoke. Do not smoke near your child. Do not let your older child smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can make your child's symptoms worse. They can also cause infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia. Ask your child's healthcare provider for information if you or your child currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you or your child use these products.

How can I help prevent the spread of H1N1 influenza?

  • Have your child wash his or her hands often. Teach your child to use soap and water every time. Show your child how to rub his or her soapy hands together, lacing the fingers. Teach him or her to use the fingers of one hand to scrub under the nails of the other hand. Your child needs to wash for at least 20 seconds. You can use a timer or sing a song that takes 20 seconds. An example is singing the alphabet 2 times. Teach your child to rinse his or her hands with warm, running water for several seconds. Then he or she should dry them with a clean towel or paper towel. Depending on your child's age, he or she can use germ-killing gel if soap and water are not available. Tell your child not to touch his or her eyes, nose, or mouth without washing his or her hands first.
  • Teach your child to cover his or her mouth to sneeze or cough. Show your child how to cough into a tissue or use the bend of his or her arm. Teach your child to put used tissues in the trash immediately. Then have your child wash his or her hands or use a hand sanitizer.
  • Clean shared items with a germ-killing cleaner. Clean table surfaces, doorknobs, and light switches. Do not let your child share towels, silverware, and dishes with anyone. Wash bed sheets, towels, silverware, and dishes with soap and hot water.
  • Wear a mask over your mouth and nose when you are near your sick child.
  • Keep your child home if he or she is sick. Keep your child away from others as much as possible while he or she recovers. He or she should not go to school, daycare, or other activities until a fever or other symptoms are gone.
  • Have your child get an influenza vaccine to help prevent the flu. Have your child get the vaccine as soon as recommended each year, usually in September or October. Your child does not need a separate vaccine for H1N1. Flu vaccines include H1N1 protection.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

  • Your child has fast breathing, trouble breathing, or chest pain.
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child does not want to be held and does not respond to you, or he or she does not wake up.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child has a fever with a rash.
  • Your child's skin is blue or gray.
  • Your child's symptoms get better, but then come back with a fever or a worse cough.
  • Your child will not drink liquids, is not urinating, or has no tears when he or she cries.
  • Your child has trouble breathing, a cough, and he or she vomits blood.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child's symptoms get worse.
  • Your child has new symptoms, such as muscle pain or weakness.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.